Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Power of Imperfection

It is tempting to look for perfection. In many aspects of life, people have come to the understanding that perfection is unattainable. There is still, however, an idea of what makes a “perfect” crime victim. People imagine a grandmother on her way to church on Sunday morning who is struck by a stray bullet. They think of a woman jogging in the middle of the day who is dragged into the bushes and raped by a stranger in a ski mask. Not all victims fit those criteria, but in their stories is power.

If you have read media coverage of a crime that lists what a rape victim drank the night of her victimization or what the victim was wearing, you have witnessed victim blaming. If you have seen a story on a homicide that rattled off the victim’s previous arrests or convictions which may have happened decades ago, you have witnessed the blaming. All of this blaming points out what society deems as “imperfections” in the victim’s story, tarnishing to the victim’s reputation and credibility.

For years, victim advocates have fought the perception that certain actions somehow make a victim’s story less legitimate or worthy of empathy. Advocates have fought the notion that behaving anything less than what society deems “perfectly” makes someone less of the innocent, blameless victim. This standard does a disservice to the majority of victims by marginalizing their experience and shifting blame from the attacker to the victim.

When a victim isn’t “perfect” according to society, there is the greatest room to make an impact on society. No one will question the outrage created by the murder of a grandmother on her way to church. To have the same outrage when an individual with a checkered past is murdered at 2am in an alley is the test that victim advocates and allies must pass, a test that the media and the rest of society so often fail.

When an advocate stands next to a sexual assault victim while everyone around her is asking why she drank so much, why she went back to a room alone with the perpetrator, or why she was wearing a short skirt, that advocate is taking a strong stand against rape. That advocate is also taking a stand against society’s warped notion of what a perfect, blameless, innocent victim is by reinforcing that blame for the crime lies with the person who chose to rape another human being, not with the victim. The advocate can not only defend that victim, but also make an impact for future victims by moving the needle on society’s view of victimization.

There is power in “imperfection.” It is when advocates and allies stand up for the most marginalized victims of crime or those branded as “imperfect” victims that they take the biggest stand and can have the most impact. It is not always easy to stand by those who society has marginalized and blamed for their victimization, but it is one of the most important purposes of Crime Victim Advocacy Center since its founding in 1972 and up to the present day. We reject victim blaming and unattainable notions of perfection in favor of supporting all victims of crime simply because they deserve to be supported. Support CVAC, support crime victims, and find the power in imperfection. 

Comments by Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why are there so many murders this year?

If I had a nickel for every time I have been asked that question over the last few months, I could afford to treat myself and maybe a coworker or two to lunch off a fast food’s restaurant’s dollar menu. I have heard this from clients, coworkers, reporters, classmates, family, and friends. I usually say that I don’t know, but I guess that’s not entirely true. The true answer is that the explanation behind the high homicide rate, at least in my opinion, is so complicated that it defies easy explanation and also easy solution. I could give an answer to every person who asks me, but they would probably regret asking after the first 15 minutes of my answer. Even such a long-winded answer from someone who has worked with the families of homicide victims for more than 10 years would certainly still underestimate the circumstances  and causes that have led us to this point in 2015.

Homicide rates are affects by nearly every aspect of society. Economy, education, family structure, legal and illegal drug use, weapons policy, gangs, community reactions to law enforcement, climate, geography and many more feed into the homicide rate. Neither a single one of these nor the sum total of these is an excuse for violence. They are just an illustration of the complexity of the problem that has vexed St. Louis for years and this year in particular. That is why there are so many murders in St. Louis, although the exact mechanism by which these interacted in 2015 is unknown at this time. We are a city with a lot of problems and most of those problems contribute to our violence rate. We are also a city with a lot of potential and human capital to put toward fixing those problems.

If the causes of murder are complex, the solutions are necessarily so. Many solutions to the high homicide rate only take into account one or two of these issues. We often find a solution to a problem within our purview or skill set because of how we define the problem. The solution presupposes the problem. If you are in control of the police department, this looks like a problem that can be solved with more officers. If you are a politician, it looks like a problem that requires a law change whether that is reevaluating drug policy, gun policy, or others. If you are a prosecutor, this is a problem that requires better cooperation with prosecution to reduce the number of murderers who get away with their crimes. If you are an educator, we need to increase student retention and quality of education. If you work with families, you may see the need for fatherhood initiatives to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives of programs to divert kids from joining gangs. The fact is, most of these solutions will probably affect the murder rate to different degrees and all are based in the logic of how and why crimes happen. A single leader or small number of them, however, cannot affect all of the causes of victimization.

Ultimately, we are holding leaders responsible for solving a problem that is so much bigger than their sphere of influence. That does not excuse them from their obligations; it just means they need to think bigger and more strategically to have a true influence on the violence that has plagued our city. 

Comments by: Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services & Special Victims Advocate